Religious Tradition

History and establishment of Christianity

The first preachers of Christianity in Crete were the Jewish-Cretans, who attended Peter’s sermon on the day of Pentecost in Jerusalem. However, the systematic spread of the new religion was organized around 64 AD by the Apostle Paul, who stayed in Crete for two years during his third apostolic tour. Before leaving he entrusted the continuation of his work to his disciple Apostle Titus.

Despite strong opposition from the Roman administration, culminating in the persecution of Decius (249-251 AD), who sought to stop the spread of the new religion and restore the spirit of ancient Rome, Christianity managed to prevail and establish itself on the island. The Cretan Church is organized with a prefect and bishops, who form the local synod. The prefect of the Church of Crete bears the title of Archbishop and Crete becomes one of the twelve Archbishoprics of Illyricum (Balkan Peninsula).

After Constantine-Konstantinos and Licinius-Likinios signed the Edict of Mediolan-Mediolana (313 AD), Christians were free to build their temples, so that they could freely perform their religious duties. As archaeological research proves, the first large temples were built in Crete from the 4th century onwards, in the basilica architectural type.

Great religious figures of Crete

Continuer of the work of the Apostle Paul for the Christianization of the island, Saint Titus-Titos emerged as an important religious figure from the very first years of the spread of Christianity. Saint Titus was even the first bishop of the island. Today, his head-skull is kept in the imposing church of St. Titus in Heraklion and is on display for pilgrimage.

The bishop of Crete, St Myron, later became a prominent religious figure. He was born in ancient Rafkos around 250 AD and served as bishop of Crete on the episcopal throne of Gortyna at the end of the 4th century. He passed away full of years at around 350 AD, having left behind him an immense pastoral and Christian work. His tomb with his remains and his hermitage, from which holy water gushes forth, are located in the village of Agios Myron, near the city of Heraklion.

The miraculous Saint John the Stranger is considered the founder of asceticism on the island. He arrived in Crete after its liberation from the Arabs in 961 AD, along with 98 other ascetics from Egypt, to undertake the revival of the Orthodox faith. For 50 years he preached and built temples and monasteries, going from place to place throughout Crete. Initially he resided with the ascetics in caves, at the site where the “Azogire” Monastery is today. Later, he retired alone to the caves of Marathokefala and Akrotiri, where a rich ascetic tradition developed.

The story of the Four Holy Martyrs from Melampes of Rethymnon, who on 28 October 1824 were beheaded, refusing to renounce their faith in Christ, is a special one. Their bodies, which lay in the square of Rethymno for three days, emitted a holy light, while their executioner, returning home with his scimitar bloodied, wiped it on a towel, which his blind mother used by mistake and found her light. The scimitar remained as a holy relic in this Turkish family and was handed over to the Christians years later when the Turks left the island. Thus, it is kept today in the church of St. Nicholas in Splantzia, Chania. Look for the Holy Four Martyrs in the illustrations of Cretan churches: they are always painted as short-clad Cretans-wearing short breeches.